HUNTSVILLE — Athens sophomore Mardrell Kirby has a simple plan for his 126-pound Class 5A state wrestling championship match against undefeated Arab junior J.D. Henderson.
"Take a shot," he said Friday after winning two matches to advance to the final.
"He took his shot," said Kirby, who was pinned by Henderson in the third period when the two met earlier this season. "He's was more on the offensive. I'll take my best shot yet."
While those two tangle for an individual championship, it would appear the Knights have a team title there for the taking today at the Von Braun Center's Propst Arena.
Athens is eighth among the 21 5A teams with 33 points and Hartselle is 10th with 31. East Limestone received a point from its lone qualifier, 126-pound seventh-grader Sam Allred.
Kirby's teammate, 195-pound senior Bolton Patton, also reached the championship final.
Patton (48-10) will take on Hartselle senior Clint Bender (43-13). The two have split four previous matches this season. Bender won the first two, with Patton taking the last two.
"I just figured out how to wrestle him," Patton said. "After watching film and stuff, I figured out what he likes."
Patton said he's "definitely" guessing Bender has figured out a few things of his own and may alter his strategy.
"He'll be up for it tomorrow," Patton said. "I will be, too. It's for the state championship. We'll give it all we've got."
Bender said he tried to conserve energy too much in the two losses.
"I've stepped up my game a lot," he said. "I want to go for state since this is my last year."
East Limestone's Allred lost his opening match when he was pinned at 1:45 by Pinson Valley's Hank Turner. He rebounded to defeat Benjamin Russell's Caleb Bailey 10-6 in the first round of consolations.
Also for Athens, senior Phillip Patton (160) lost in the semifinals and dropped to consolations as did classmate Rob Morse (182). Seventh-grader Thomas Carter lost two matches.
For Hartselle, eighth-grader Logan Smith (113) lost in the semifinals. Sophomore Michael Prince (145) won a first-round consolation match. Senior Matt Watson (132), senior Ryan Nowka (152) and senior Oliver Duncan (220) both lost twice.
Arab qualified 13 wrestlers, have six in the finals and led after one day of the two-day tournament with 119 points.
Scottsboro, which piled up a big early lead, lurks close behind at 115 after all seven of its qualifying wrestlers advanced to the championship finals. But, even with four-time state champion and state all-time career wins leader Brandon Womack leading the way, the Wildcats will have a hard time overcoming the Knights' superior numbers.
In 6A, two-time defending champion Thompson had 185.5 points to Vestavia Hills' 163. Hewitt-Trussville is third with 95.
In 1A-4A, St. James leads Tallassee 94.5-77 as both chase their first wrestling state championships. Defending champion Susan Moore is third with 59 points.
Kirby (51-7) advanced to the showdown with Henderson (60-0). He was at Grissom last year but followed dad Keith to Arab when he was named the Knight's football coach, by defeating Benjamin Russell's Caleb Bailey 18-8 in a major decision, then edged Pinson Valley's Hank Turner 7-5.
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